Baltimore Orioles: Why A.J. Burnett?


Photo: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
The MLB free agent period is just starting and the rumors are already beginning to swirl around the league. The Orioles, who look to be a World Series contender again in 2015, are sure to be the center of many reports as the offseason unfolds and are already being linked to several names. However, many of the scenarios are just speculation, and deciphering the valid rumors among the numerous reports is challenging.

The first rumor was the Orioles’ interest in free-agent DH Billy Butler. The rumor carried some logical sense given the Orioles’ interest in Butler in previous offseasons. His power could increase in hitter-friendly Camden Yards, and in any other offseason could be a go fit for the Orioles. However, it currently doesn’t make much sense for the Orioles. They have been adamant about their desire to resign Nelson Cruz, who would likely be the primary DH. Also, if they enter 2015 with a similar lineup as last season, they will have to be creative in finding Steve Pearce consistent at-bats. Billy Butler just doesn’t seem to fit.

The newest rumor involves the Orioles interest in free-agent pitcher A.J. Burnett. Again, the rumor does make some logical sense. Burnett is familiar with the AL East having spent significant time with the Blue Jays and the Yankees, and has even expressed interest in staying with a team near his home in Maryland. It is also presumed he would only sign with a contender, given he is reaching the twilight of his career.

However, those seem like the only areas where the two fit. Burnett is coming off a season where he posted a 4.59 ERA and will be 38 before the season starts. Burnett was coming off two solid seasons with the Pirates before last season, but those were the only seasons since 2007 that he posted a sub-4 ERA. He also gave up 20 homeruns and walked 96, which is hardly a good combination at Camden Yards.

Given those numbers, it’s hard to imagine what value Burnett would have to the Orioles, or even what his role would be on the staff. There is no way he could replace starters like Miguel Gonzalez or Wei-yin Chen, both of whom are coming off career seasons and have been consistent starters for the past three seasons. It’s also hard to imagine Kevin Gausman not in the rotation. He has the best stuff on the team and has paid his dues. He needs to make 30 starts this season.

He also doesn’t make much sense in the bullpen. Apart from the fact that he has made only one relief appearance in the past ten seasons, his erratic control completely eliminates him from any late inning roles. What’s left may be a more expensive T.J. McFarland.
The avalanche of names that are linked to teams in the offseason make for some interesting conversations. However, we aren’t in the dark ages of the Orioles anymore. This is contending and talented roster. There is no need to add big name free agents unless they’re clearly upgrades, and it’s difficult to see how Burnett will be an upgrade.